Neutrophil defect and lung pathogen selection in cystic fibrosis

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Journal of leukocyte biology


Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disorder caused by mutations in the CFTR chloride channel. Clinically, over 90% of patients with cystic fibrosis succumb to pulmonary complications precipitated by chronic bacterial infections, predominantly by Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. Despite the well-characterized gene defect and clearly defined clinical sequelae of cystic fibrosis, the critical link between the chloride channel defect and the host defense failure against these specific pathogens has not been established. Previous research from us and others has uncovered that neutrophils from patients with cystic fibrosis are defective in phagosomal production of hypochlorous acid, a potent microbicidal oxidant. Here we report our studies to investigate if this defect in hypochlorous acid production provides P. aeruginosa and S. aureus with a selective advantage in cystic fibrosis lungs. A polymicrobial mixture of cystic fibrosis pathogens (P. aeruginosa and S. aureus) and non-cystic fibrosis pathogens (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Escherichia coli) was exposed to varied concentrations of hypochlorous acid. The cystic fibrosis pathogens withstood higher concentrations of hypochlorous acid than did the non-cystic fibrosis pathogens. Neutrophils derived from F508del-CFTR HL-60 cells killed P. aeruginosa less efficiently than did the wild-type counterparts in the polymicrobial setting. After intratracheal challenge in wild-type and cystic fibrosis mice, the cystic fibrosis pathogens outcompeted the non-cystic fibrosis pathogens and exhibited greater survival in the cystic fibrosis lungs. Taken together, these data indicate that reduced hypochlorous acid production due to the absence of CFTR function creates an environment in cystic fibrosis neutrophils that provides a survival advantage to specific microbes-namely, S. aureus and P. aeruginosa-in the cystic fibrosis lungs.

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